The Chronicles of Joseph: JS’s Journals in the Ensign

By November 30, 2007

This month’s Ensign contains a fascinating little article describing Joseph Smith’s seven journals. The authors, two friends of mine, are editors on the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Mark Ashurst-McGee (MA, USU; PhD. candidate, ASU) is editing journals from the 1830s. Alex Smith (MA, BYU) is editing Smith’s journals from 1841-April 1843. Mark is also editing the journals from April 1843 to June 1844. They’re both excellent scholars and likely know more about these journals, in terms of content, physical description, and provenance, than anyone alive. Alex has worked directly with the Nauvoo journal, The Book of the Law of the Lord, which previous scholars such as Scott Faulring and Michael Marquardt have not had access to.

The 6 page article gives summaries of the seven journals and also includes images of the artifacts. We also get blessed with images of the Joseph from Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration and other church artwork. Here’s a basic summary of each journal:

  • First Ohio Journal: 1832-1834
    • Smith was inconsistent at best in his early record keeping. The journal was written in part by Smith himself, and so contains some deeply moving, although short in length, personal reflections from the Prophet. It also contains insights into the middle years of Kirtland.
  • Second Ohio Journal: 1835-1836
    • This journal was kept primarily by scribes, although Smith dictated much of it. It contains fascinating accounts of the First Vision, Moroni, the translation of the book of Abraham, a vision of the celestial kingdom, the preparations for the solemn assembly in the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the visit of the Savior and other ancient prophets to the Kirtland Temple.
  • First Missouri Journal: March-September 1838
    • This journal was kept primarily by the General Church Recorder, George Robinson. It contains records of the disciplinary actions against Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, as well as a fascinating account of the growing tensions between the Mormons and vigilantes in northern Missouri. The journal unfortunately stops at the beginning of September, leaving many of the events of the Mormon War unrecorded.
  • Second Missouri Journal: September-October 1838
    • This is a brief account of Smith’s comings and goings in September and October by scribes. As far as content goes, it is the least interesting of all of his journals.
  • First Illinois Journal: 1839
    • This journal, kept by scribes, is a window into Nauvoo’s early days, and includes desciptions of buying land and the malaria outbreak afflicting the Saints.
  • Second Illinois Journal: 1841-1842
    • This journal, kept by scribes, describes the formation of the Relief Society, the construction of the Nauvoo Temple, Smith’s activities as church president, city mayor, storekeeper, chief justice, newspaper editor, and commander of the Nauvoo Legion. It also contains court records and correspondence.
  • Third Illinois Journal: 1842-1844
    • Although written by a scribe, the journal entries “capture the Prophet’s personality and character in ways that that Joseph likely would not have written about himself” (39). The journal contains court records of cases over which Smith presided, and ends the week before Smith’s marytrdom.

Given the venue of the article, I think the authors did an excellent job of providing an overview of the journals and making history accessible for ordinary members of the church. Historians familiar with the journals no doubt would have liked a deeper treatment of their content, but given the venue, we’ll just have to take what we can get. I for one am glad that the Ensign is taking a more aggressive approach to including church history articles. I’d like to see a history section become a permanent feature in the magazine as a way to introduce ordinary members to historical artifacts, such as these journals, as well as instruct members on more problematic issues in the church’s past, like the recent Mountain Meadows article.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Origins Miscellaneous


  1. I agree. This is a great development and a fine article. Now, if we can just get these things published! (grin)

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 30, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  2. Here’s a link:

    December Ensign

    Comment by Justin — November 30, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  3. “Spelling and punctuation modernized in all journal quotations.” No, no, no. Bad idea. 🙂

    Has Scott Faulring been involved with this project?

    Comment by Justin — November 30, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  4. Justin: I know, I noticed that too. I spoke with Alex this morning and he confirmed that that was the Ensign‘s decision, not the authors.

    Scott Faulring was involved with the project up until the move from the Smith Institute to the COB. He was working on the History Series.

    Comment by David Grua — November 30, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  5. The normal length for an Ensign article is four pages, so the fact that Mark and Alex got six pages is exceptional.

    Comment by David Grua — November 30, 2007 @ 3:11 pm

  6. Before anyone gets too fired up at the Ensign for modernizing quotations, keep in mind that the very same Ensign article in English was also published this month in the Liahona in numerous languages, where all the spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other errors and idiosyncracies disappear anyway in translation. How would you translate a misspelled word or ungrammatical construction into another language? You couldn’t without taking great poetic license–doing so would create a strange version that was even more removed from the original than the cleaned-up English version is removed from the original English version. You might argue, then, that the Ensign should get all the raw, original language, with cleaned-up versions allowed in translation in the Liahona. But keep in mind also that the whole point of the new “correlated” magazine concept is that members across the world are getting much of the same content month after month (identical articles in the Liahona as in the three English magazines)–with no one language preferred over another. With this in mind and given that the audience of the church magazine is a lay, not scholarly, audience and that the magazines are primarily devotional in purpose, I think the decision to modernize spelling and other features is completely defensible in church magazines and most other church materials, so long as it is noted.

    Comment by Eric — November 30, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  7. #3 My understanding is that Scott Faulring has been ill for quite some time and has not been actively participating in any of this. I also understand that he was not invited to join the crew that moved up to the COB when the Smith Institute was disbanded, so he was probably out of the loop on the Papers after that. I understand he had a job involving technology before he fell ill.

    #6, Good points about translating material, as pointed out above, given the venue…

    Comment by Jared — November 30, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  8. Eric, Many thanks for a well-worded response. Your experience with professional editing for a truly international audience is very much appreciated. Dave, thanks for the kind comments.

    Comment by Alex — November 30, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  9. Oh, and another comment: Please look at Marlin Jensen’s article directly before the JS Journal article. The idea of introducing more historical articles in the Ensign is chiefly his idea, and as mentioned above, should be applauded.

    Comment by Alex — November 30, 2007 @ 4:29 pm

  10. Amen to the applause – and to Eric’s #6. It was exactly what I wanted to say, but worded much better than I would have done.

    Comment by Ray — November 30, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

  11. Back in the late ’70s and very early ’80s when Lavina Fielding Anderson was with the Ensign, they had some really superb historical articles. The standard practice at the Ensign at the time was to retain original spelling. See for example this article that includes the following note:

    Authors? original spelling has been retained, following standard historical practice. See reasons for spelling variations in “Nineteenth-Century Spelling”, Ensign, Aug. 1975?including uncertain spelling conventions and spelling as an expression of personality.

    Here’s an Ensign article on Emma Smith by Valeen Tippetts Avery and Linda King Newell that cites the same note.

    Here’s the 1975 article on spelling cited in the note. It seems like current articles could maintain original spelling and cite the 1975 article.

    It may have actually been from the Ensign that I originally learned the historical standard of retaining original spelling.

    Comment by Left Field — November 30, 2007 @ 11:43 pm

  12. Ensign lost a lot of interest for me when it stopped printing historical information in the 90s. That seemed to have had an affect on the theological and devotional articles, making them way too basic. I never did understand why they became so few, although I have a hunch it had to do with the “intellectual” battles of that era.

    The problem with Mormon history is not, as its critics and the exed-bunch apologists believe, that it has a history. Rather, as recent historians Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens have shown, it is how the history is approached. I believe strongly that typical Latter-day Saints can appriciate and not be scandalized by the more complex past. However, that can only happen if the history is presented in a way that is (I won’t say the obnoxious and horribly false “objectively”) less critical and more informational. Those who oppose such an approach can call it apologia. Fine enough, but all history is apologia. All arguments made are only the creation of the historians putting often desperate material together in a cohesive presentation.

    I look forward to the renewed emphasis on the history of Mormonism in the Ensign. It is ironic that some of those who started it earlier contributed to its end by politicizing history rather than just researching it. Now, I hope that LDS History can return to what it was in the “golden years” before the ignoble rebellion of a few.

    Comment by Jettboy — December 1, 2007 @ 10:35 am

  13. Scott Faulring is my dad, and they haven’t contacted him on this at all. My dad has been ill for a while. He suffered several strokes and having multi health problems now. The reason he didn’t go up to Salt lake City is because BYU was trying to force my dad to give up his private collection of records containing Joseph Smith and others. U of U now owns those records that my dad collected.

    Comment by Spencer Faulring — February 29, 2008 @ 7:42 am

  14. Spencer,
    I’m sorry to hear about your Dad. We all owe him a professional debt of gratitude for his work.

    Comment by SC Taysom — February 29, 2008 @ 9:59 am


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